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Weinberg v. Interep Corp.

April 26, 2006

DAVID WEINBERG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTEREP CORP., AND LONNY ANGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

About eight months after executing and certifying a separation agreement with his employer releasing all claims arising from his employment under any federal, state, or local anti-discrimination statutes and laws, Plaintiff David Weinberg filed a Complaint with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County in September 2005 alleging that he was terminated on the basis of his age in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12(a), and the state's public policy prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of age. (Compl. ¶¶ 21, 25.) On November 18, 2005, Defendants Interep Corporation ("Interep") and Lonny Anger ("Anger") (collectively, the "Defendants") removed the case to this Court. This matter is presently before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, to grant summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Defendants assert that Plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily entered into a valid separation agreement and accepted separation benefits in exchange for a release barring Plaintiff from alleging claims of age discrimination. Defendants also argue that Plaintiff, as a Pennsylvania employee of Interep, cannot assert claims under New Jersey employment law, in any event. For the reasons discussed herein, this Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment. This Court has diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts alleged in the Complaint are limited, but are as follows.*fn1 In July 2002, Plaintiff began employment with Interep as a media and advertising sales person. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Defendant Anger was employed as Vice President, Director of National Sales, with Interep, and was Plaintiff's superior. (Compl. ¶ 8; Affidavit of Lonny Anger ¶ 1.) On January 7, 2005, Plaintiff attended a meeting at Interep's principal place of business in New York where he was terminated. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-16.) At the termination meeting, Plaintiff was presented with a separation agreement and release (the "Agreement," attached as Ex. A to Aff. of Lonny Anger), the terms of which offered Plaintiff severance and medical benefits as consideration for Plaintiff agreeing to release Defendants from claims arising from Plaintiff's employment, "including any anti-discrimination or equal employment opportunity claims." (Agreement.) Three days later, on January 10, 2005, Plaintiff executed the Agreement. (Id.) Under the terms of the Agreement, Plaintiff received five weeks of base severance pay and medical benefits paid by Interep through April 30, 2005. (Id.)

In September of 2005, Plaintiff filed the Complaint alleging that he was terminated from his employment on the basis of his age in violation of N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12(a) (Count I) and public policy of the State of New Jersey, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of age (Count II). (Compl. ¶¶ 21, 25.) Defendants removed the matter to this Court and filed the current motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), and alternatively, for summary judgment.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard of Review; Conversion to Motion for Summary Judgment

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted must be denied "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). A district court must accept any and all reasonable inferences derived from those facts. See Unger v. Nat'l Residents Matching Program v. Exxon Co., U.S.A., 928 F.2d 1392, 1394-95 (3d Cir. 1991). Further, the court must view all allegations in the Complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236; Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

In the present case, both sides have referred to factual matters outside the pleadings, stated in the Affidavit of Plaintiff and in the Affidavit of Lonny Anger, which also attaches a copy of the Agreement. To the extent that this Court relies upon matters outside the pleadings, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion is converted to a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(c), as provided in the final sentence of Rule 12(b) itself. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). In this case, as explained below, the Court refers to factual matters outside the pleadings to determine the circumstances of Plaintiff's employment and surrounding his execution, ratification, and receipt of severance pay and benefits under the Agreement.

B. Analysis

1. Whether the Agreement was Valid and Precludes Plaintiff's Claims of Age Discrimination in Employment

It is beyond dispute, for reasons now discussed, that dismissal is appropriate because Plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily executed the Agreement with Interep that precludes claims arising from his employment under the NJLAD or any other anti-discrimination law, whether by statute or common law, for which he received the consideration of valuable severance benefits.

On January 7, 2005, Plaintiff attended a meeting at Interep's headquarters in New York where he was terminated. (Pl. Br. at 1.) At the termination meeting, Plaintiff received the proposed Agreement which stated, among other things, that Plaintiff was being offered five weeks of severance pay and medical benefits in exchange for his ...


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